The ultimate winner of the FIFA World Cup is Paul the Octopus. Thanks to internet, St Paul has become the latest celebrity. Post West Germany’s victory over Argentina, Argentinean fans wanted to make a dish out of Paul; who also won the battle of the Oracles – having called the winner correctly instead of Mani the parrot who bet on Holland.
We have a bad habit of putting things (Octopus included) on a pedestal when they are right and bringing them down (may be beat them to death, especially as Octopus is a delicacy) when they fail. Short term success means so much. With due respect to St Paul, it is just a matter of time when he gets it wrong. It is completely weird and random. Years ago, I read that even monkeys can toss a coin and get 10 heads in a row. That does not mean that they have suddenly developed a skill of tossing coins, which any mathematical student can tell is a random event.
St Paul’s task is made simpler because he is choosing between two alternatives, of which one is true. A question to the believers is whether he would have picked Spain as a winner when shown 32 options, i.e. list of all qualifiers. That way, our Roman driver can also achieve rock star status. At least, he clearly predicted Italy will exit and between Span and Argentina, one will win. (In case you missed my earlier blog, read Kicking Around )
The same treatment is meted out to our cricket stars, film stars, politicians et al.. Jo jeeta who hi sikandar and to hell with how they won. The counter attack came after a referee error. The free kick was clearly deflected from the Spanish wall and Holland did not get a corner. Who knows what would have happened if they got a corner? St Paul would have been replaced by Magic Mani, the parrot.
Similar celebrities are created in financial services too, especially among fund managers and suddenly they vanish from limelight without much of a trace, especially when markets collapse like the way they did in 2008 and 2001. Some of them manage to come back, but without the halo. What is more important, is before making someone a hero, one should analyse and investigate how s/he obtained results. Superior returns are an outcome of taking higher risk. This law of finance has held true for centuries and in spite of whatever popular media comments – “this time it is different”, the law comes back to haunt. The method obviously matters more than the end.
I'm not sure what will be St Paul's fate but can only hope that nobody robs Peter to pay St Paul.
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